Building a lifelong legacy in Queens

CYRIL JOSH BARKER Amsterdam News Staff | 11/17/2011, 1:24 p.m.
When you enter Greater Allen A.M.E. Cathedral during a Sunday service, you see hands up...
Building a lifelong legacy in Queens

At the advice of a mentoring pastor, Flake went to Wilberforce University in Ohio, where he earned a degree in psychology. Shortly after he graduated he began to take seminary courses, ultimately graduating from the United Theological Seminary in Dayton, Ohio. Flake worked shortly for Reynolds and Xerox before leaving the corporate world.

He had plans to stay in Ohio but received an offer to go to Lincoln University in Pennsylvania to be its associate dean of students. He also worked at Colorado College and Boston University as dean of students and dean of the chapel.

While in Boston he met his future wife, Elaine. She was teaching in a town outside of Boston and he was the assistant pastor of the church they both attended. Elaine sang in the choir. Flake said the two were best friends before they took things further.

"She was the one I wanted to talk to," he said. "Over time, I realized that this was the woman that God had brought to be in my life. It's been a great marriage and a great life for us."

When Elaine was seven months pregnant with their first child, Flake was asked by a Harlem pastor if he would come to New York City to take over as pastor of Allen A.M.E. He came to New York in 1976, but was a little apprehensive beforehand. Elaine convinced him that it was the right move.

Flake came to Allen A.M.E. when the church only had 1,200 members. He used his background in marketing to make the church grow and refine the church's mission.

"You can't grow a church from the inside out," he said. "You grow from outside in. You go outside and you bring in younger people. With my marketing background, I looked at why people were leaving to go to Nassau County. People left because of a lack of quality education and housing and the drugs in the community at the time."

He connected with then-Mayor Ed Koch to discuss bringing affordable housing to southeast Queens. Flake got one of the first Section 202 housing programs to provide senior housing, gaining 300 units.

To address the issue of education, Flake and his wife decided to build a school. He led the church to buy up property and concentrated on running the drugs out of the community where they wanted to build.

"When we opened that school, it was the first year we really started to blow up," Flake said. "When we opened that school, we had so many kids we decided to have a youth ministry. You had children at the school and children at the church. All of a sudden, people started believing we were doing good for the community."

As the church began to grow, so did its need for space. In 1984, the church started to raise money for a new building. In 1997, Allen A.M.E. moved to its current location.

Vowing never to go into political office, Flake found himself running for Congress in 1986. He won and served New York's 6th Congressional District from 1987 to 1997. During his term, he brought two federal buildings to Queens, providing thousands of jobs, and built 500 affordable homes in southeast Queens.